Abstract Chris Wood 27 March 2017

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Critical Reflection and Affective Experience in the Making Visible of GNSS Infrastructure

Chris Wood, Queen Mary University

This presentation describes a series of walking workshops designed to make GNSS satellite infrastructure visible and thereby provoke reflection on participants’ sociotechnical practices around location services. The method leveraged architecture’s ability to create moments of breakdown in mobile devices’ ability to establish a location fix, by blocking lines of sight and producing multipath errors. This approach proved powerful in creating critical reflection on the existing functionality of GNSS infrastructure. In this way, it can be seen in a tradition of ‘infrastructural inversions’ (Star and Bowker 1999). The participants reported alienation from their usual tasks and suspicion around the role of state and corporate actors within GNSS and attendant infrastructures. However, alongside these critiques of power and visibility, they also expressed feelings of companionship, play and a sense of the sublime. The paper reflects on the intersections between these affective aspects of participants’ experiences and the strongly felt, but expected critical engagement with asymmetries of power, surveillance, privacy and GNSS’ military origins. It describes what emerges from the making visible of infrastructure and how to make sense of affect within methods which promote reflection on sociotechnical practices. In this way, it thickens understandings of how GNSS satellite and sensor infrastructures currently create practices and what alternative practices they could potentially create.

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